One of the most challenging things to do as an agency, and particularly a small one or as an independent consultant, is setting expectations. The challenge is pretty obvious: you want to get the client excited to work with you and of course you want to win the account, so your inclination is to promise big. That said for pretty much any agency a client who stays on for a couple of months and cancels isn’t very interesting, so you want to make sure your projections are as close to accurate as possible.
So how do you toe that line?
Creating the Right Expectations: Do Your Research!
First off, you can’t properly set PPC expectations without having a fairly deep understanding of a potential client’s account as well as the competitiveness of their niche. This is particularly vital in actually pricing your services if you charge based on either a flat fee or on a pay-for performance basis, but is also important if you’re charging a percent of spend. The process of actually digging deep and getting a sense for what sort of expectations you can set will be different for everyone, but I find an effective process here is:
- Have an initial call with the prospect to learn more about their account history, their pain points and challenges, and their business (ie margins, what they can pay for a lead profitably, etc.)
- Get account access and take an initial dive into the account to identify low hanging fruit, get a feel for the level of optimization (are basic best practices being leveraged? Does the level of optimization look pretty sophisticated?). Things to look for here are over-use of broad matching options, bidding across the account, the size of keyword segmentations, account settings, major issues with Quality Scores, etc.
- Map your findings to client goals – is there a lot of efficiency that can be introduced to the account, or will you be squeezing out small gains? What does the client hope to accomplish? Are they satisfied with the account performance? Do they have a specific level of improvement you’ll have to hit for them to keep the account “turned on”?
The idea here is to be brutally honest with yourself – and the client – about what you think can be accomplished and how much it will cost (in the event that you’re flat fee or percent of spend based). It’s always tempting to over-promise, but failing to walk away from an account where you can’t possibly meet client expectations is a great way to ensure that your client churn is through the roof and that you’re spending even more time on sales calls trying to fill out your client roster.
What to Look for in Your Initial Audit
So what are the tell-tale signs that would indicate to you whether you should go or stay? Again everyone’s auditing process will be different, but I like to think about the inputs (ie best practices that typically make for an effective PPC campaign) and outputs (ie the hard data around CPCs, conversion rates, costs, CPAs , and client margins) to try to identify opportunities for improvement. Here’s a good checklist to get you started:
Inputs – Questions to Ask
Are their Quality Scores at reasonable levels?
Are they missing impressions in profitable campaigns (campaigns with budgets they’re not hitting and low impression shares)?
Does it look like they’re actively managing bids?
Are their ad groups bloated from a keywords per group persective?
Are they even updating the account frequently?
Are they using negative keywords?
Are they leveraging best practice settings at the campaign level?
Are they frequently testing ads, particularly in high volume ad groups?
Outputs – Questions to Ask
In a post on performing a PPC auditI outlined some fundamental questions to understand about the economics of the account you’re evaluating:
We’ll use simple numbers here for the sake of demonstration, but once you know where the margins need to be (we’ll say it’s $10/conversion) you can start to better evaluate different components of the campaign:
- Conversion Rate - What’s the conversion rate? If it’s 10% account-wide then you know that a CPC backed out of that conversion rate has to be $1.
- CPCs - What are your CPCs? If the target CPA is $10 and the conversion rate is 10% and your average CPC is .80 you obviously have some interesting wiggle room.
- Volume - How is the volume in the campaign? Is it an acceptable level? If you reduced the number of conversions by 20 percent but increased margins on those conversions, would the lack of volume break the back of the company or negatively impact their model somehow?
Now just share the expectations with the client! Give them an idea of what you anticipate as weak points and what you think you can do, and be honest. Taking the time to do a deep dive into an account and understand how (and even whether) you can help them with their campaign can save you in churn what you’re expending in time up front.